Reunited with her family after 69 years

Reunited with her family after 69 years

Madam Zawiah Ahid, 69, tidied up her Jurong flat yesterday, prepared kueh and drinks and borrowed a standing fan, in anticipation of a special visit.

When Madam Teo Kiat Chit, 74, stepped through the doorway later in the afternoon, she broke down and cried.

It was the first time she met Madam Teo - her sixth sister - and the rest of her biological family since she was given up for adoption as a month-old baby.

The long-awaited reunion came about after The Straits Times website posted an article on May 30.

It detailed how Madam Zawiah, who was born to Chinese parents, wanted to find her biological relatives. Within hours, a friend of the Teo family read the report and alerted Mr William Teo, 50, whose father, Mr Teo Tian Yan, was Madam Zawiah's second brother.

While her two older sisters could not be there, Madam Zawiah's third, fourth and fifth sisters turned up, taking turns to chat with her excitedly in Malay, hold her hands and touch her face.

More than 30 of Madam Zawiah's family members from the past and present were at the meeting. She greeted each new face, wiping away tears of joy as she did so.

While Madam Zawiah, who does not speak Mandarin or Hokkien, could not converse with some of her younger relatives, they exchanged smiles and hugs.

Born the youngest of 10 children after World War II, Madam Zawiah grew up not knowing she had three brothers and six sisters.

Her birth certificate reflects her Hokkien heritage, but she has never answered to her birth name, Tew Suat Sim.

She felt abandoned and resentful at being given away, but admitted that she had a comfortable childhood with her adoptive parents, civil servant Ahid Arip and housewife Halima Abdul Rahim.

She had often thought of trying to find her blood relatives when she was younger, but convinced herself there was little point.

She later married Mr Mohamed Omar, 81, a retired production operator, and had three children and four grandchildren.

But last month, with the encouragement of a caregiver at Alexandra Hospital where she is undergoing palliative care after having been found to have a liver tumour, she decided to seek out her biological family. Her youngest child, network engineer Razali Mohamed, 35, contacted The Straits Times.

As it turned out, a family friend of the Teos read the online article.

The friend, who declined to be named, said Mr Teo Tian Yan, who died at 80 in 2013, often spoke of his youngest sister.

"I first heard this story from Mr Teo almost 20 years ago, and many times after," said the friend.

"Even though the spelling of the surname was slightly different, the rest of the details were familiar to me."

Sadly, Madam Zawiah's eldest brother has died, and the third is in a coma.

Mr William Teo, who works in the textile industry, said Madam Zawiah's siblings have never forgotten her. "They all wanted to find her, but nobody knew where to start looking," he said.

Madam Teo said of Madam Zawiah: "Our father never wanted to give her away, actually."

But their mother died soon after she was born, and there was no one to look after her.

So Madam Zawiah was given to an Arab family, who later gave her up to Mr Ahid and Madam Halima. Her biological parents did not know Mr Ahid's family, though both families used to live around Kembangan.

Now, the families are planning a full reunion for Hari Raya Puasa next month.

Said a beaming Madam Zawiah in Malay: "I can't believe I finally got to meet them at last. I never knew I had such a big family."

This article was first published on June 7, 2015.
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